Hollywood is preparing for its biggest night of the year at the Oscars on Sunday, but chaos at Disney is already looming over the event – with internal strife and an escalating employee backlash at the Mouse House threatening to ruin the party.
Disney has gone to great lengths to contain the impact of its response to a Florida law that would prohibit teachers from discussing LGBTQ topics such as sexual orientation or gender identity with students unless they are in fourth grade or higher.
The issue sparked an internal battle among company employees who were divided over whether Disney should go into politics.
Left-leaning employees went on strike this week, arguing the company disappointed the LGBT community by initially failing to denounce the bill.
A separate group of conservative employees urged the company to remain “politically neutral” – arguing Disney had created an “environment of fear” for workers who did not adhere to “progressive orthodoxy.”
The battle over Disney’s political leanings is reaching as high as the C-suite, with current CEO Bob Chapek reportedly preferring to stay out of partisan debate — and avoid meddling from his progressive-minded predecessor, supposedly retired executive chairman Bob Iger.
The heat could overshadow ABC’s Oscars for Disney broadcasts — with studios like Marvel and Pixar and prominent celebrities like actor Oscar Isaac and HBO host John Oliver among those who have pressured the company to take a stand.
Disney is trying to avoid public debate over the Florida law, which detractors have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
But the situation escalated on February 24, when Iger tweeted that he agreed with President Biden’s stance that it was a “hate law” – even as Chapek-led Disney refused to take a public stand. Chapek reportedly felt belittled by his predecessor.
After days of pressure from LGBTQ rights groups, Chapek broke his silence on the bill in an internal memo on March 7. He reiterated Disney’s “unwavering commitment to the LGBTQ+ community,” but emphasized that “company statements do little to change results or minds” and often divide society even further.
Chapek’s early memo angered many Disney employees. A group identifying itself as “Pixar’s LGBTQIA+ employees and their allies” said the CEO’s words “resonated” and accused Disney executives of actively censoring.
“Almost every blatant moment of gay affection is cut off at Disney’s behest, regardless of when there are protests from the creative team and executive leadership at Pixar,” the employee said.
Within days, Chapek apologized for failing to be a “stronger ally” – adding that Disney would stop all political donations in Florida and donate $5 million to LGBTQ rights groups, including the Human Rights Campaign.
Disney is returning same-sex kissing scenes to Pixar’s upcoming feature film “Lightyear” — a reversal that comes after incriminating letters from Pixar employees. The company also held a “town hall”-style forum on Monday in a bid to ease tensions among its workforce.
The moves don’t appear to have had much effect — with several Disney employees reportedly going overboard with Chapek and complaining to Iger about how the company was responding to the Florida bill, CNBC reported.
Despite Disney’s efforts, employees still went on strike last Tuesday – with protest organizers saying the company had put them in an “impossible and unsustainable position” that required drastic action to achieve change.
Meanwhile, Disney’s increased involvement drew criticism from a separate faction of employees who argued Chapek had the “right idea” by initially remaining silent. Disney has not publicly addressed the group’s concerns.
“We often see those who share the same opinion condemned as criminals by our own leadership,” the workers added. “The politicization of our company culture undermines morale and causes many of us to feel our days with TWDC may be over.”
The happiest place in the world could face additional challenges during the Academy Awards broadcast itself, with the event serving as a potential platform for Hollywood progressives looking to bully Disney off the stage.